Commentary: Real Costs of a Fire District

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, July 8, 2005

Sac Metro Fire covers 417 square miles and serves 600,000 residents. In terms of population, it is bigger than the cities of Elk Grove, Citrus Heights, Folsom and Rancho Cordova combined. Last year, the fire district collected more in property taxes than any of the county's major school districts. But while school districts have had to lay off teachers, and cities and counties have cut vital services, Sac Metro fire has been able to lavish huge pay raises on its fire fighters. For me, that raises an obvious question.

Why should fire district budgets be walled off from other vital government spending, such as police protection, public health and road maintenance? The way Sac Metro is set up now, the people we elect can't make reasonable choices between paying fire fighters more or fielding more police patrols, fixing pot holes, or offering more mental health services or after school programs.

I think fire departments should have to compete for their fair share of the public purse just like police, mental health, libraries and parks. With stand alone fire departments like Sac Metro, that kind of competition can't take place. And that is what I think leads to all the waste and abuse in government we hear about so much.


Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.